The next film I’m going to be taking a look at in this series is Rocky. It was recommended by Caz of Let’s Go To The Movies after a conversation about the last films we saw at the cinema. As far as franchises go, this may be the best I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t think they put a foot wrong, and a lot of that comes down to the titular character being one of the all-time greats.
Rocky Balboa is a super wholesome character
He only really wanted two things – love and purpose. Rocky found love with Adrian and Paulie, and his purpose was right there in the ring. He was someone who was always sure of who he was, but not in a way that conveyed arrogance. He simply knew what he wanted in life; the core ingredients that would mean he’d be happy, regardless of whatever else was thrown at him. This is something that I think is refreshing to see in any character, but in a film centred so heavily on boxing, this was even more the case. It’s a sport that requires a lot of showmanship, arrogance and viciousness, and Rocky Balboa was the complete antithesis of it in and out of the ring.
All this being said, this character comes across so well is because he clearly means so much to Sylvester Stallone. The man created him and his story, then played him, and in some instances directed the films too. Rocky Balboa is a character that means a lot to so many people, but none more so than his creator, and it shows in the performances.
This is a franchise that takes you on a journey
All of the Rocky films play out over the course of nearly five decades. That is a long time for a single character to grace screens without people growing tired of seeing them, but sure enough, it happens here. To me, the release schedule for all of these films seemed quite deliberate. Stallone showed us Rocky at various points throughout his life and career, and we get swept up in the journey as well. We see it all, and it’s this that has cemented him in the hearts of people. There is something very personal about the style of filmmaking here, meaning viewers feel like they’re right there with Rocky.
Of course, you can’t spend nearly half a century on-screen without the times changing somewhat. The nods to the passing of time and the landscape changes that come with it were something that I loved about this franchise. They captured the times in which they were made with every aspect of their being. Take the original film for example – that was trademark 70’s filmmaking. Understated, and focused solely on the development of its central character, using everything else around them to do this. I don’t know the history of these films as well as I do others, but something tells me that the original Rocky was never made with the intention that it would become the phenomenon that it did. I think that is the case for so many films made back then – independent features that are modern classics now.
In stark contrast, fast-forward to 1985 when Rocky IV was released. The 80’s were a decade where pop culture seemed to be larger than life. Music, and music videos, were very rock’n’roll, and films – especially those of the action variety – exceeded to excess. Nothing sums this up more than the moments just before Apollo Creed fights Ivan Drago. James Brown, Las Vegas showgirls, fireworks – you name it, it was probably there. It was a scene that had energy in buckets, and was so fitting of the era.
Sports films for the non-sports fans out there
The Rocky franchise is an incredibly accessible one. It’s very easy for people to be deterred from watching films that supposedly revolve around sport, but here the boxing is purely a component. Yes, every film ends in an epic boxing match, but Rocky is the focus of these films above all else. When the boxing does feature, it’s its principals that take centre-stage more so than the sport itself. That’s not to say that the sporting elements don’t get their chance to shine however.
Everyone knows about the training montages. Whether you’ve seen the films or not, when you hear the opening trumpets to Bill Conti’s ‘Gonna Fly Now’ your mind is instantly transported to those sequences, most specifically Rocky himself running up those steps in Philadelphia. They are iconic, is what I’m getting at here. They are such powerful parts of the films as well, in terms of the impact on the audience. Every time, without fail, they make you feel as though you can go out and do anything. They put you in the same mindset, bringing you closer to films that have already done so much to draw you in.
And of course, let’s not forget the all-important fights. They were so well done. The fight between Rocky and Creed at the end of the second film is a stand-out. It was tense, the kind of tension that has you digging your finger nails into the palms of your hands. The fights were well shot, but were composed in a way that always had you unsure of what the outcome would be, even if the end result was obvious. This was important as things never had the chance to get boring – another reason for why the character has survived the test of time.
I’m kind of in love with this franchise
I don’t think that there’s a bad film in the lot, even when the premises might be a little far-fetched. There is so much going for these films, but so much of their strength lies with Rocky himself. If it wasn’t for this character, I doubt that any of the films would be held in such high-esteem. Stallone has created someone who has become an icon of inspiration. That he has survived in pop culture without ever wavering in terms of how he is viewed is a true testament to his creator, in both writing and performance. The landscape may change, but Rocky never does, and there is something very comforting about that.
Seeing as you’re here…
Why not check out my thoughts on Brawl In Cell Block 99 – another recommendation courtesy of Film Twitter?